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Google office package challenges Microsoft

Free Writely & Spreadsheets package launched

Google has integrated its separate spreadsheet and word-processing applications, giving them a uniform user interface and a unified document repository.

By creating a common platform, Google seeks to make it easier for people to switch between Writely and Google Spreadsheets, Google officials said.

The combined product, called Google Docs & Spreadsheets, is available now.

Google made it easier to switch back and forth between these two hosted applications because it has learned from user feedback that many people use both to work on similar tasks, such as making lists and plans, said product manager Jonathan Rochelle.

The effort also follows from Google's recently articulated strategy to group its many individual online services into fewer sets, said product manager Jen Mazzon. It's likely that other products will join the Writely and Spreadsheets group, she said.

Google has been introducing new products and services at a fast rate over the past year, and its top executives have recently expressed concern that people are confused and can't keep track of them.

The integration of Writely and Spreadsheets should be seamless to users, the product managers said.

Noticeable changes will include a more Google-like interface for Writely, which Google acquired in March when it bought the creator of the software, Upstartle. Another change will be the single list for documents and spreadsheets, with a shared search box.

Users will also be able to publish spreadsheets and word-processing documents to an HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) page, such as a blog, as well as share them with others in view-only mode.

Google's Writely and Spreadsheets are widely seen as shots across the bow of Microsoft, which has ruled the office-productivity market with its Office suite.

While Microsoft's Office is made up of large PC-based applications, Google's applications are hosted on its servers, a model many consider more attractive and less cumbersome for users. In addition, Writely and Spreadsheets are free, while Microsoft's Office isn't.

Although the Microsoft suite contains more applications, which pack significantly more features, industry observers see Google moving decisively toward a full suite.

Google has a hosted application for web page creation, called Google Page Creator, which Mazzon acknowledged might make sense to include in the Writely and Spreadsheets set.

If Google does want to offer a suite to rival Office, it will need to add a presentation application similar to Microsoft's PowerPoint. Google's product managers declined to comment when asked if Google is planning to offer such an application.

In August, Google launched Google Apps for Your Domain, a suite of hosted collaboration applications for small and medium-sized organizations that includes its Gmail Web mail service, online calendar, Talk instant messaging service and Page Creator. That suite is free, although a version for large organisations will be fee-based. It's not clear whether Writely and Spreadsheets will be included in it.


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